Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Stop Internet Plagiarism
Protect Your Site!

Cybele by Sandra M. Stanton


During the first millennium, B.C.E., or possibly even as early as the Paleolithic period, the worship of the Great Mother Goddess, Cybele, began. Cybele was originally worshipped in the form of a black meteorite, by the inhabitants of Phrygia, Lydia and the surrounding mountainous areas, which were located in the western part of the region that is now known as Turkey. This area is one of great historical significance, with the Plains of Illium, and the ancient city of Troy, lying slightly to the west. Cybele was known by several titles, in that mountainous region, including the “Great Mountain Mother,” and the "Lady of Mt. Ida," and she later gained an assortment of other names, which included the "Magna Mater (Great Mother)," “Dindymene,” “Kubaba,” “Agdistis,” and the “Mater Deum Magna Idaea (Great Idaean Mother of the Gods).”

Even though Cybele had originally been worshipped as a classic Earth Mother Goddess, she eventually became identified with fertility, and with unrestrained sexuality. In her role as a fertility or nature Goddess, she was believed to have total control over all the wild things on Earth.

The Greeks, however, looked upon Cybele as just another name for their Goddess, the Titan Rhea, who was the wife of Chronos, and the mother of the mighty God Zeus. The Greeks also believed that Cybele may have been an aspect of their Goddess Demeter, who was a fertility Goddess, or their Goddess Artemis, who was also a Goddess of the wild. To her followers, however, Cybele represented the pure power of nature, and both she and Artemis, were considered to be protectresses of wild animals, while each laid claim to the title the “Great Huntress,” who was the protectress of the ancient Amazons.

The Cult of Cybele has frequently been looked upon as a mystery religion, similar to the Cults of Isis and Demeter. Cybele, however, was completely unlike those two positive and loving Mother Goddesses. Indeed, Cybele appears to have come out of a completely different mold. In fact, Cybele was so completely opposite from Isis, that it is impossible to imagine her even being in the presence of children, much less breast-feeding one. It is extremely doubtful, as well, whether anyone could ever picture Cybele wandering through and nurturing the green fields and peaceful forests of Earth.

Indeed, Cybele’s crown appears to be the turreted wall of a fortress, which only exemplifies her role as a mighty defender. It is extremely apparent, as well, that she preferred to spend her time in the company of lions, or other wild animals, rather then embrace a child in her arms. These differences only help to make it extremely clear that Cybele was an independent and individual Goddess, and those are only a few of the many reasons why Cybele has been considered to be one of the most unique Goddesses, to ever be worshipped in Rome.

In very general terms, Cybele is just another name, out of a variety of different names, for a Fertility Goddess whose cult spread widely throughout, and then encompassed, the entire Mediterranean region. Some time later, her worship traveled even farther, reaching as far away as the Crimea, Southern Russia, Egypt and the British Isles. This particular Mediterranean Fertility Goddess was always the primary figure in her cult, and every year her consort, a handsome young Vegetation God, died in the Fall, only to be resurrected when Spring once again arrived.

In Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy this Goddess was known as Cybele, or the Magna Mater (the "Great Mother"), and her consort was known as Attis. Babylonia and Syria knew her as Astarte or Ishtar, whose consort’s name was Tammuz, and while she was in the aspect of Inanna, her consort was known as Dumuzi. In a later period, her name changed to reflect the deities of the times, and the Greeks worshipped her as Aphrodite, and the Romans as Venus, while her resurrected lover was known as Adonis.

It really doesn’t matter which names were used, because every God and Goddess mentioned above, was for all practical purposes, interchangeable. Attis, Tammuz, Dumuzi and Adonis were simply different names for the dying and resurrected consort of the Mother Goddess, whether she was known as Cybele, the Magna Mater, Ishtar, Astarte, Inanna, Aphrodite or Venus.

The individual and unique Goddess Cybele, however, was known as a Great Mother Goddess. She was frequently depicted wearing her turreted crown, while she was seated on a throne, with either a lion lying in her lap, or else being flanked by two lions, with one of them lying on each side of her. Cybele has also been pictured, driving a chariot which was drawn by two lions.

Archeologists discovered a figurine at Çatal Hüyük, dating back approximately 8,000 years, which depicts the Mother Goddess flanked by two leopards, squatting, while in the process of giving birth. Many centuries later, lions replaced the leopards. That change occurred, in all likelihood, as a way of correcting the ancient belief that leopards were actually female lions.

Lions have frequently been used to symbolize a wide variety of things, including strength. Since lions were frequently associated with Cybele, they might signify that she was the mistress of wild nature, or that her power was so great, that lions became meek, whenever they happened to be in her presence.

Cybele has frequently been depicted holding a frame drum, which she was known to play. It is considered to be one of her most important symbols, and it is believed to represent the moon. A famous picture exists, showing Cybele holding a frame drum in her left hand, painted red, while in her right hand she holds a lotus bowl, from which a liquid is pouring forth.

The lotus bowl, also known as the patera, is believed to represent the great cosmic vulva, from which the water of life continuously pours forth. Many different liquids have been used to represent the water of life, including honey, wine, milk and even blood. Ishtar, an aspect of Cybele, has also been depicted pouring the water of life, as it flowed endlessly, from a jug.

There are many different versions of Cybele's major myth, the Myth of Cybele and Attis. One version tells about the passionate love affair, between Cybele and a handsome young man named Attis. When their affair finally came to an end, due in all likelihood to Cybele’s extreme anger with Attis, she decided to punish him by causing him to go mad. It was then, while Attis was in that mad state, that he castrated himself and then died. Even though Attis may have died in the Fall, he was resurrected when Spring once again arrived, symbolizing the re-birth of vegetation upon the Earth, after the stark, barren throws of winter.

This particular version of the Myth is an extremely important one, because it gave people an opportunity to form some kind of belief structure regarding an after-life, reincarnation, or re-birth. It also gave them a strong sense of hope, regarding their own futures, because if Attis had been brought back to life, after he had died, then that might also happen to them.

The Greek Goddess, Aphrodite, is similar in some ways to Cybele, since terrible things tended to happen to those who were closest to her. A prime example of this was the death of Aphrodite’s lover, Adonis, who was killed by a boar.

Traditionally, two different versions of the Myth exist which explain how Attis died. The first one claims that he castrated himself, while he was standing under a pine tree, and then died. The second one claims that Attis first became emasculated, and was then killed in the same manner as Adonis, by a boar.

Another version of the Myth recounts the story regarding Zeus’ desire to have sexual relations with Cybele. Zeus was well known for his philandering ways, and for his great need to have sex with almost every single woman he happened to meet. Cybele, however, had no desire to have sex with Zeus, so she turned him away.

Refusing to accept the fact that Cybele did not desire him, Zeus visited her one night while she lay sleeping, and proceeded to spill his seed upon her. That act caused Cybele to became pregnant, and when she gave birth, it was to a hermaphrodite that she named Agdistis.

Agdistis was an extremely strong and wild child; so much so, that the gods greatly feared him. It was out of that fear, that they devised a plan in which they would cut off his male sexual organs, thereby rendering him female. The Gods did, indeed, castrate Agdistis, and at the exact spot where his blood first touched the ground, a pomegranate tree sprang forth.

Many Greek deities, including Dionysus, the twice-born son of Zeus, have been associated with the pomegranate. In fact, the pomegranate is believed to have originated from Dionysus’ blood. Pomegranate seeds also played an important role in Homer's Ode to Demeter, in which Persephone, the daughter of the Titan Demeter, ate some pomegranate seeds just before she was leaving the Underworld to return home to Mount Olympus with Hermes.

Since she had eaten from the “food of the dead” (the pomegranate seeds), while she was still in the Underworld, Persephone became eternally bound to return there, as well as to her husband, Hades, each and every year, when the season of Winter visited the Earth.

The river Sangarios had a beautiful young daughter named Nana. One day, Nana happened to be walking past the same Pomegranate tree that had grown from Agdistis' blood, and she stopped there for a moment to eat a piece of its fruit. Somehow, by eating that fruit she became pregnant, and nine months later she gave birth to a baby boy. Nana, however, wanted nothing to do with the child, so she abandoned him in the wilderness, leaving him exposed to all the elements to die.

Amazingly, the child managed to survive. Through sheer luck, some shepherds just happened to be passing by, and when they discovered the abandoned infant they adopted him, and raised him as one of their own. The name that they gave to the child was Attis, and he grew into a handsome young man. Indeed, Attis was so handsome that his grandmother, Cybele, fell madly in love with him. Attis, howevere, knew nothing of Cybele's love, and he eventually fell in love with, and became betrothed to, the King of Pessinus' daughter.

When Cybele learned of Attis' betrothal, she became insanely jealous and, in a moment of fury, she caused Attis to go mad. It was in that madness, that Attis lost all control and began to run through the mountains in a wild state, until he finally stopped at the foot of a pine tree to rest. It was there, at the foot of that pine tree, that his madness drove him to castrate himself and then commit suicide.

Wherever Attis' blood touched the Earth, violets sprang forth. Attis’ spirit became enveloped within the pine tree, but his physical being would have easily decayed, and then turned to dust, had it not been for Cybele, who felt such deep regret for what she had done, that she went to Zeus and begged him to resurrect Attis. Zeus refused Cybele’s plea to resurrect Attis, although he did agree to make Attis' physical form immortal. Once that process was accomplished, Cybele took Attis’ body into a cave, where she proceeded to lament his death. It was there, in that cave, that Cybele designated the pine tree to be the everlasting symbol of her love for Attis. In much later times, the Christians also chose the pine tree to be a symbol of Christ's birth, and they called it a Christmas tree, after their own resurrected deity, Jesus Christ.

There also exists another version of the Myth. It tells how, when Cybele was a very young child she was left all alone in the wilderness to die. Amazingly, she did not die. Instead, some lions and panthers came upon her and raised her, until she grew into a beautiful young woman.

This version of the Myth is rather unique, because it raises some controversy regarding whether Cybele had always been a Goddess, or whether she had originally been a child mage, who had became deified at some later point in time.

It has been said that Cybele invented the pipes and the drums, and that she had suchan amazing quality about her, that it seemed to draw everyone and everything, to her. Not only did Cybele became friends with the many animals and people that she met; she also became friends with supernatural beings, who she happened to encounter in her travels.

The Roman, Diadoros, recounted his own version of the Myth. His version tells about the time that Dindymene, the wife of Maion, the King of Lydia, gave birth to a baby girl. The royal couple had wanted a male heir, however, not a female child, so they abandoned their infant daughter upon Mount Cybelon, believing that she would either be killed by wild animals, or else she would die from exposure to the elements. Amazingly, however, the child did not die.

Instead, a group of wild animals came upon her, but they had no intention of killing her. Instead, they cared for her and raised her, and she eventually chose the name “Cybele,” after the mountain upon which she had been abandoned.

One day, Cybele met a handsome young shepherd named Attis, and they fell in love. Eventually, the two of them made love, and some time later Cybele became pregnant. The couple was overjoyed at the knowledge that they were going to have a child. Then, however, the King and Queen quite suddenly appeared, searching for the daughter they had so easily abandoned many years before and, upon finding Cybele, they forced her to return home with them. When they discovered that Cybele was pregnant, their anger was so great that they immediately had Attis put to death.

When Cybele learned about Attis' death, her grief was too great for her to bear, and she began to wander aimlessly throughout the countryside. One day a miracle happened, and Cybele was somehow able to bring an end to a great famine. Because she had performed that miracle, Cybele became deified, and eventually became a Goddess. From that time forward, whenever people worshipped Cybele, she always required them to include Attis in that worship. Attis, however, could only appear to them as an image, rather then as a living and breathing entity, since his body had turned to dust, long before Cybele had become divine.

Arnobius, was also a Roman, and he wrote yet another version of the Myth. One night, while Cybele lay sleeping upon Mount Agdos, in Phrygia, the God Jupiter came upon her and attempted to rape her. Jupiter was unsuccessful, however, and he was forced to spill his seed upon the ground. When his seed touched the ground, the mountain beneath it became pregnant, and when the mountain gave birth, it was to a wild creature named Agdestis. Once born, it was discovered that Agdestis was a hermaphrodite, which had the same sexual hunger that the male and the female sexes would have, if their sexual hungers would ever become combined. That was, indeed, an extremely immense hunger.

In fact, a sexual appetite that great alarmed the Gods to the point where they actually viewed it as a threat. They were unable to find any other alternative, so they had the child’s male sexual organs removed.

On the same spot that Agdestis’ severed organs hit the ground, an almond tree sprang forth. Some time later, Nana, the daughter of a nearby river, the Sangarios, ate a piece of the fruit from that almond tree, and from that act, she somehow became pregnant. Nine months later, she gave birth to a handsome baby boy who she named Attis, and who then grew into an even handsomer young man. Cybele fell deeply in love with Attis, but he was already promised to wed the King of Pessinous' daughter.

Since Attis was promised to wed another, Cybele did, with a heavy heart, what she believed was the right thing to do, and she rejected Attis. When Cybele rejected him, Attis felt so great a loss that he castrated himself and then died. It was only after his death, that Cybele was finally able to deal with her own enormous grief. In fact, Cybele became so distraught, that she went to Zeus and begged him to help her, which he agreed to do. First, Zeus preserved Attis’ body. Then, he went even farther and, as a way of honoring Attis, he required that all of his priests castrate themselves as well.

For the less romantic reader, there remains one final version of the Myth in which Cybele's' lover, whose name was Attis, bled to death after a pig had bitten off his genitals.

When all things have been said and done, it really matters little which version of the Myth you choose to believe, because no matter which particular story you feel drawn to, they all have two major things in common: Cybele's great love for Attis, and his act of self-castration. It was that particular act that became a ritual, which eventually grew into a religious cult, in which Cybele's priests, the Galli, castrated themselves during a variety of orgiastic rituals.

The name “Galli” is supposedly derived from the word “Gallus,” which means cock; and they actually did use the symbol of a cock to represent themselves. Once castrated, those priests became eunuchs, who performed flagellation and self-mutilation during a variety of climactic ceremonies which they used in their worship of Cybele. Young men would frequently attend these ceremonies, hoping to find a way which would allow them to spend the rest of their lives in the service of the Goddess. Many of those young men became so caught up by the intensity of the worship that they actually jumped into the middle of the procession, grabbed the sacred swords, and then castrated themselves as a way of imitating Attis. The Galli were also known to dress in women's clothing, and behave like women, in an attempt to emulate the feminine nature of Cybele.

When the Cult of Cybele was in its early stages, only priestesses were allowed to perform the sacred rites. That practice changed dramatically when Crete was overthrown, and the Cretan priests of Zeus, the Curates, migrated to Phrygia, where they joined with the Corybantes and became Galli. Legend tells us that the Corybantes were the half human sons of Chronos. It was their wild dancing, and the loud noises that resulted from the banging of their shields and weapons together, that prevented Chronos from hearing the cries of his infant son Zeus. If Chronos had, indeed, heard the cries of Zeus, he would have swallowed him whole, just as he had done with all of his other children. Chronos swallowed his own children whole as soon as they were born. He saw it as a way of protecting himself from the possibility, that one of them might castrate him, just as he had previously done to his own father, Uranus.

These priests, like the Galli before them, became complete eunuchs. They grew their hair long, dressed in women’s clothing and perfumed themselves with fragrant oils, in a manner that was quite similar to Dionysus, who had been raised as a girl rather then as a boy. Becoming total, or complete eunuchs, required the initiates to go through more then just a simple castration. They actually had to take their transformation into women one step further, by having their entire penis removed. The amputation of their penis left an opening, where the root of that organ had once been, and they used that opening during sex, in the same manner as they would a woman's vagina. That particular metamorphosis, which changed men into women, actually required more then just the removal of their total genitalia. In order for a priest to truly seem like a woman, who had actually been born a woman, then he also had to cause his body to periodically bleed, as a way of imitating menstruation. The priests achieved this periodic bleeding by committing acts of self-mutilation.

The Galli first became a part of Cybele’s worship, around approximately the same time that the Cult of Cybele and Attis first began. That was, indeed, in extremely ancient times, since that happened more then 500 years before the founding of Troy. Even in the very early days of the Cult, Attis never once appeared as a living and breathing entity, independent and separate from Cybele. Rather, he existed solely as a part of the worship of Cybele.

The Temple of Cybele was devoted to all things that were feminine, and while it may have strongly glorified women, it just as strongly denied men the right to worship in any of its ceremonies or rites.The Cult of Cybele, believed that men should worship their own, male Gods, and perform their own ceremonies and rites, with a congregation of worshippers that consisted solely of men. That is why almost no men ever appeared in the worship of Cybele.

A few exceptions were made, however, which allowed three separate and unique groups of men to worship in the Temple of Cybele. The first exception was for a man who had become a woman. Since he had actually become a woman, then there was no problem with her worshipping in the Temple of Cybele. It was not sufficient for a man to simply dress in female clothing and assume a feminine pose. If a man truly wanted to be a part of the Cult of Cybele, then there was only one road for him to follow. He had to either go through the process of castration, or through the severing of his complete genitalia.

Those particular acts of self-mutilation were sometimes referred to as "the Rites of Attis." Many men performed those Rites when they became caught up in the throws of wild and reckless abandon, during the Lupercalia, which was the annual celebration of those Rites. During that celebration, those severed sexual organs were frequently offered up to the Goddess, and while there may have been some of those men who regretted doing what they had done, the majority of them looked upon their actions as being necessary if they seriously wanted to become permanent members of the Temple.

The second type of man was an extremely handsome or sexy man, who was considered to be extremely desirable to women. Everything that the temple could offer him was his, for one full year. Then, when that year finally came to an end, he was offered up to the Goddess as a human sacrifice.

The third and final type of man, who was accepted into the temple, took on the role of a High Poet. His role was to spend every single moment, of every single day of his life dedicated in every way, shape or form to the worship of the Goddess.

Cybele's worship eventually spread from Anatolia to Hellenistic Greece during the 5th Century B.C.E. In Greece, however, she continued to play a relatively minor role, since she was simply looked upon as just another aspect of their Goddess Rhea. For that reason, she never really gained that much acceptance in Greece as a separate and independent Goddess. Then, during the Hellenistic period, which was the late 3rd Century, B.C.E., the Cult of Cybele finally spread to Rome.

In 204 B.C.E., a number of unimaginable events took place in the heavens, causing the Romans to become terrified, at best, and completely hysterical, at worst. Some of those events included the sky appearing to be on fire and two moons colliding, with the pieces of one of those moons falling to the Earth, where they became known as sacred stones.

The Punic War was also being fought, at that exact same period of time, and Hannibal's presence in Italy posed a clear and present danger to Rome. Needing direction on how to proceed in the war, the Roman Senate ordered that the Sibylline Books be consulted. The Oracle advised the Senate, that if a foreign enemy ever invaded Italy, or declared war upon it, then that threat could be defeated, and driven out, but only if Cybele, the Idaean Mother of the Gods, was brought from Pessinus to Rome. Not everyone was convinced, however, so as a further means of corroboration, the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi was consulted, and she, as well, advised the Romans that success would be imminent, but only if the Magna Mater was brought to Rome.

The Romans followed the Oracles' advice, and began to make the necessary arrangements to acquire Cybele, and then bring her from the Phrygian city of Pessinus, which was the center of her worship at that time, to Rome. To facilitate that endeavor, Rome sent an envoy to Attalus, the King of Pergamum, requesting his assistance in that matter.

Attalus, however, was extremely reluctant to allow Cybele to be taken to Rome, but he soon came to realize that he had no real choice in the matter, after the voice of Cybele spoke to him after an earthquake, and told him: "Rome is worthy of becoming the meeting-place of the Gods." For that reason, the Roman ambassadors were allowed to enter Pessinus, acquire the black cube-shaped stone that was Cybele, and then carry her back with them to Rome.

Throughout the ancient world, meteorites were frequently believed to be sacred stones, and they were worshipped in much the same manner that the sacred stone, which had landed in the Arabian city of Mecca was, and still is, worshipped to this day. The sacred stone of Mecca, and the City of Mecca itself, are both worshipped by the followers of Islam. Previous to the time when the prophet Mohammed brought the teachings of Islam to the world, the Pagan people, who inhabited the Arabian Peninsula also worshipped the sacred stone. In fact, every man who follows Islam, must make a pilgrimage to Mecca, at least one time during his lifetime, and kiss the sacred stone that had fallen from the sky so many centuries ago.

Other sacred stones exist, which are not pieces of meteorites, and they include the objects known as menhirs and monoliths. In Pagan times, it was believed that the power of the Great Earth Mother was contained within each and every sacred stone, and that a priestess could connect with that energy by simply caressing the stone while she was praying to the Goddess.

Priests escorted Cybele from Pessinus to Rome. Then, when the ship finally arrived at the port city of Ostio, she was turned over to Scipio, the Roman dignitary that the Senate had chosen to greet her. His job was to accompany the Goddess on the final leg of her journey, up river by ship, until they reached the Gates of Rome.

Unfortunately, the ship upon which they were traveling became stuck in shallow water, and nothing seemed to be able to set it free. While the crew was attempting to free the ship, some of the local residents came aboard. One of them was a vestal virgin named Claudia, and she prayed to the Goddess for help to set the ship free. Then, a miracle occurred. Shortly after Claudia had prayed to the Goddess, all that she did was touch a rope, ever so lightly, and the ship was immediately set free. It appeared to be a miracle, to everyone concerned, and they all agreed that Claudia’s prayer had caused Cybele to respond, thereby allowing the ship to be set free. They also came to the conclusion that Cybele desired to resume her journey as quickly as possible, so that she could finally could be appropriately worshipped in Rome.

When the ship landed in Rome, the matrons of the city all lined up and passed the meteorite that was Cybele, from one of them to the next, and on and on until, on the day before the Ides of April, the Great Mother of the Gods, also known as Mater Deum Magna, was finally laid to rest in the Temple of Victory, which was on one of the hills surrounding Rome, known as the Palatine. Some time later, a statue was made in the feminine form of the Goddess, so that she could be worshipped in a form that was more familiar to the Roman people. Later that year, Scipio conquered Hannibal near Croton, and the Romans finally gave a sigh of relief upon learning that the invasion had been defeated. Their belief was that it would never have happened, had it not been for the help of Cybele, and almost overnight, she became a national Goddess.

As the Magna Mater, Cybele was considered to be the Mother of the Gods. Being known as the Mother of the Gods, made it extremely clear to the world just how all-encompassing Cybele's power truly was. The sphere of her control encompassed everyone and everything that had ever been, ever was, and ever would be, and it included every part of the life cycle, from birth through death. For those particular reasons, Cybele was considered to be a Goddess of the Cycle, and it is well known, that a Goddess of the Cycle should never be taken lightly.

When Cybele was originally brought to Rome, no one had bothered, or perhaps they had not dared, to tell the Romans about Attis, or about the rites that were associated with the worship of Cybele. While Cybele may have gained great respect as a national Goddess, when the Romans finally learned about Attis, and the eastern rites of her worship, they were completely appalled. Welcoming Cybele into Rome may have been all well and good, but accepting Attis, and Cybele’s eunuch priests, the Galli, into Roman society, was an entirely different matter.

When the Galli worshipped Cybele, their loud sexual moans and their wild erotic dances frequently drove her worshippers into states of complete and unrestrained ecstasy. All too often, that ecstasy would soon turned into self-flagellation, and self-castration. Those things were totally unacceptable to Rome. To that end, for many years after Cybele first began being worshipped in Rome, her priests were completely isolated from the Romans, under a year-round quarantine and, with the exception of the various processions, that were a part of the Megalensia, Cybele's rites were only performed within the walls of her Temple.

Cybele's rites were extremely orgiastic in nature. They had served their purpose well when they had been performed in Phrygia, since their purpose there had been to increase human fertility. Ritual prostitution was also a normal way for the Phrygians to worship Cybele, and it was looked upon as a way of giving a gift to the Goddess. The Romans, however, viewed those acts quite differently then the Phrygians, and they refused to have anything to do with them.

Until the reign of Claudius finally came into being, Attis, the Galli, and the acts of self-castration and self-mutilation were kept in an isolated and controlled environment. The Romans quickly realized that they were faced with a rather serious predicament. Somehow, they had to find a way of dealing with a national Goddess, whose worship had extremely "oriental" features. It was no secret, and it became exceedingly clear, that while the Romans may have adored Cybele, they just as strongly despised Attis.

The official Roman religion tended to be filled with solemn dignity, and pomp and circumstance, which contrasted dramatically with the Phrygian form of worship. The eastern rites, which were a part of Cybele’s worship, easily excited the Romans’ imaginations, to what their rulers considered to be an extremely unhealthy degree.

To that end, the Pontifix Maximus set down a ruling, requiring that the orgiastic rites, which were a part of the Megalensia, only take place within the temple walls. A declaration was also made, which stated that oriental priests, alone, could perform the rites that were used in worshipping Cybele. In fact, Rome actually became so adamant in its views, that until Claudius’ reign, no Roman citizen could even serve in the Temple of Cybele. That really didn't seem to bother most of the Romans, though, since they considered the Rites that the Galli performed, to be nothing other then total insanity.

Surprisingly, even though Cybele’s worship was extremely foreign to the Greco-Roman cultures, that fact did not appear to hinder its growth. Cybele’s worship continued to spread widely throughout the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, and while the rites and rituals performed by the Galli may have disgusted the Romans, they in no way deterred them from embracing Cybele as the Magna Mater.

The worship of Cybele was an extremely emotional experience, and that was probably one of the main reasons why she was worshipped with such a great intensity. Worshipping Cybele required her devotees to do something that no other religion had ever required them to do; it required her worshippers to commit their bodies, as well as their souls, to that worship. Even Mithraism, the Roman religion of soldiers, did not require its worshippers to physically harm themselves, while worshipping Cybele did.

It was that intense devotion to Cybele which seemed to fascinate the Romans, while at the same time it disgusted them as well. Many Romans also questioned the necessity of having to harm oneself simply to worship a deity. They had always been taught that happiness in the afterlife was guaranteed, and that all that they had to do was become initiated into its mysteries, by going to the Sanctuary of Elusius.

Practicing the Roman religions seemed more like attending social functions then attaining great spiritual enlightenment, and that may have also been one of the main reasons why worshipping Cybele appealed to so many of the Romans. Her form of worship allowed them to openly express their feelings, which was very intriguing to them, since they had never experienced anything like that before.

As the years continued to pass, the Romans’ attraction to the Cult of Cybele continued to grow. Then, when the sanctions against worshipping Cybele were finally lifted, the Romans proceeded to embrace her, and Cybele’s face became engraved upon Roman coins, while her statues were placed within Roman shrines, throughout the entire Roman Empire.

Then, when Claudius finally did become Emperor, the Cult of Cybele became totally integrated into Roman society, as a state religion, and the title, “Archigallus,” became one of the many titles, that a Roman citizen could be called. Roman citizens, however, were still forbidden to castrate themselves, so a way around that requirement was devised, which allowed those citizens who wanted to join the priesthood to do so without having to go through the actual act of castration.

To become a priest, a man simply had to go through the symbolic rite of either the Taurobolium, or the Criobolium. The Taurobolium had to do with the capture, castration and killing of a bull, while the Criobolium replaced the bull with a ram. These animals were used, in all likelihood, because they symbolized abundant fertility and power, and it was during these particular rituals, that the proposed Archigallus was baptized, and initiated into the Cult of Cybele, using the animals' blood, rather then his own.

Two hundred years after Cybele had first landed in Rome, and became a national Goddess, her worship had become so popular that it was one of the three most important cults in Rome, sharing that honor with the Cult of Isis and Serapis (Osirus), and the Cult of Mithra. Amazingly, her worship, and that of Isis and Serapis, continued to exist until the fall of the Roman Empire, when Christianity began to reign supreme as it gained great strength and power in Rome. Then, during the 4th Century, C.E., the Emperor Constantine outlawed all mystery cults, and from that point forward the worship of the Magna Mater in Rome was no more.

Ironically, the Basilica of the Vatican supposedly stands on the same exact place that Cybele's Temple originally stood, and Christians now celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the same place where Attis had once been worshipped. Moreover, many people tended to believe that the Virgin Mary had evolved from an aspect of Cybele.

In approximately 100 C.E., a man named Montanus, who had once been a Galli, one of the eunuch priests in the Cult of Cybele, formed a Christian sect opposed to the teachings of Pauline Christianity.

Pauline Christianity followed the teachings of the Apostle Paul, which believed in lessening the stature of women, while at the same time, it manifested men as being superior to them. Pauline Christians completely cast off the feminine aspect of deity, thereby making the Holy Spirit sexless, and it left no place in its religion for women, other then as obedient and mindless servants of men.

Montanus, on the other hand, believed that Jesus was actually Attis, in his aspect as Cybele's son, and more importantly, that Christ would return to the Earth as a woman. Montanus’ Church granted women equal authority with men, and it actually allowed them to become priests. He also believed that women were the Goddess’ representatives on Earth, thereby giving the feminine a very strong voice in Christianity.

One night, while Montanus was worshipping the Magna Mater and her only son Attis, the Goddess Cybele spoke directly to him, telling him that only one chance remained for the survival of the Temple, and that they would have to merge the spirituality of the old ways, with that of the new, thereby creating a totally new form of worship. When the Goddess spoke to Montanus, she referred to herself as the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, Divine Sophia, and the Holy Feminine Aspect of God, and then she charged Montanus to spread the new prophecy throughout the world. Montanus did just that, and his sect grew into an ascetic one, filled with chastity and a strict form of morality.

The Christian Holy Week is believed to have evolved from the Montanist sect. Interestingly, Holy Week, the period that falls between Good Friday and Easter, and celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is held at the same time that the festival, which celebrated the rise of Attis from the dead, was held. It is a well-known fact that Christian holidays frequently fall upon the same dates as many Pagan holidays. That was one way that the Christian Church made it easier for its converts to make the transition from Paganism to Christianity.

The Pagan festival, which celebrated the rise of Attis from the dead was, in all likelihood, similar in many ways to the holiday Christians now celebrate as New Year’s Eve. Pagan holidays are based upon the cycles of nature, and the Spring Equinox occurred at that particular time, when the days were becoming longer, and the weather was beginning to grow warmer. What is interesting, is the fact that when Cybele was first brought to Rome, the celebration of the Spring Equinox was used by the Romans as a way of "Romanizing," and thereby legitimizing the Mysteries of the Cult of Cybele.

Cybele was a powerful and mighty Goddess, of the same magnitude as Isis, Rhea and Demeter. She was even considered by many to be the Mother of the Gods. In fact, Cybele was so powerful, that her cult became one of the three major cults in the Roman Empire, equal in stature only to the Cult of Isis and Serapis, and the Cult of Mithra.

The Cult of Cybele has frequently been looked upon as being “strange” or “unique.” Those observations stem from the fact that Cybele was not your typical Mother Goddess, nor was she your typical Fertility Goddess. While Cybele may have been both a Mother Goddess and a Fertility Goddess, she was also a great deal more.

Cybele also took on the role of a protectress. She became the protectress of cities, of animals, of wild nature, of the Amazons, and of her joyful worshippers, who emulated the actions of her beloved Attis by performing self-castration and self-mutilation. The emulation of Attis was a necessary and important step in the process through which Cybele's worshippers became actual and true women.

Cybele's priests, the Galli, and their acts of self-castration, became the part of her worship which was the most controversial. If you wish to understand why those men chose to become Galli, you first need to put aside all the trappings which stem from pure sensationalism.

The Galli did everything possible to become women. They dressed like women, they acted like women, and they even had their bodies physically altered, so that they could become as close to women, who were actually born women, as possible. Until they fulfilled those requirements, they had no hope of ever becoming a part of the Cult of Cybele.

To the Galli, becoming a priest in the Cult of Cybele meant everything. It also required them to become truly feminine, which meant becoming as much like the Goddess as possible, since the Magna Mater herself, personified the perfection of all that was feminine, which was, in reality, the Divine Feminine, itself.

In their need to become as close to the Goddess as possible, the Galli also needed to emulate Cybele's beloved Attis. When you couple that with the Gallis’ metamorphosis into a feminine being, it can easily be seen why everything that was done by the Galli, was done in the hope that they, themselves, would one day receive the same kind of love from Cybele, that she felt for her beloved Attis.

While the demands that arose from the worship of Cybele may have appeared to many as being “different” or “unique,” they in no way lessened the importance of that worship. Rather, the unique dedication by the Galli to the Goddess strengthened that worship, by showing the great faith that her followers had in her.

Cybele, the Magna Mater, was a powerful and greatly loved Goddess, and her followers did whatever they had to do to get as close to her as possible; and she did, indeed, require much from them. To her followers, however, nothing that she could have asked of them would have been too great. If she had asked something of them, because of their great love for this remarkable Goddess, they would have given it to her, wholeheartedly. They would have given her the world, had she asked for it, and the sun, the moon, and the stars; just as they had given her their bodies and their hearts; so great was their love of this amazing Goddess; this Goddess whose name was Cybele.

Painting of Cybele by Sandra M. Stanton
Used with Permission

Back Button